Not Too Bad
Words of Wissman
Of the some 6,000 fans at Columbia's Lawrence A. Weiner stadium, maybe 1,000 were Harvard fans. Of those 1,000, maybe 500 were honestly concerned about the outcome of the game. And of those 500, maybe 20, 30 at the very most, were satisfied with the Crimson's play.
"Christ it's going to be a long season," one gravelly-voiced man with a Harvard hat said walking from the stands to his car.
"We let them score 32 points," one Harvard student said, getting to the crux of the problem.
Going into the game, most conceded that anything less than a Harvard blowout would be a disappointment. Columbia has one of the worst programs in college football history. The Crimson beat the Lions '30-3 last season. The team lost nearly all of its defense to graduation. And the excitement attending the beginning of Murphy's tenure seemed to bode well for a Crimson stampede.
By those expectations, Harvard's victory seemed Pyrrhic at best. The Crimson gave up 397 yards total offense, blew an 18-point lead and, in general, had to coax a John Elwayesque late-game performance out at senior quarterback Vin Ferrara to snatch the win. Conventional wisdom was that Saturday's game was hardly a promising beginning.
But sometimes conventional wisdom can be wrong. And, in all fairness to both sides, that seems to be the case with perceptions regarding Saturday's game.
First, it must be said that Columbia showed considerable improvement over Lion teams past. Sure, the Columbia defense was weak, giving up 424 total yards and 28 points to the Crimson, but offensively, it was extremely impressive. Its line shot off the ball noticeably harder than in past years and monstrous running backs John Harper and Marcellus White blew open holes to the tune of 77 and 49 yards, respectively. It executed soundly, and the Crimson interior defensive line came crashing down.
And second, the Crimson showed considerable improvement over last season in three main areas. First, the team's offense was better than ever. Intent on eroding Columbia's perimeter defense going into the game, Harvard followed through with a deft mixture of short-range passing and off-tackle running. Ferrara(22-32-245 passing, 11-45 running) and running backs Eion Hu (18-73 rushing) and Kweli Thompson (12-65) stood out in these endeavors, but kudos also go out to the offensive line, which showed a mastery of myriad blocking routes.
Second, for the first game of the season, the team was in exceptional condition. Last season the Crimson lost three close games--to Princeton, Dartmouth and league-champion Penn--after being up at halftime. In each game, fatigue was cited as a major reason for the loss: after establishing the lead, the Crimson just seemed to fade away in the fourth quarter. Saturday, despite a late-games no-huddle offense and a hard-hitting Columbia team, there were no such signs of fatigue. As center Toby Brundage said: "We seemed stronger, tougher and willing to go on forever."
And third, there was a notable difference in the Crimson's confidence. In the three late-game losses last season, plus the team's heartbreaking loss to Yale, there was a sense that the Crimson just gave up, that it refused to believe that it could win. A lack of confidence is the most damning characteristic of a losing program, and the Crimson seems to have washed its hands of it this year the team mounted its first successful comeback in recent memory.
Harvard's performance was not perfect, of course--its rushing defense was poor, and its execution was not always sound, but those weaknesses should not take away from the central truth revealed Saturday's game both Harvard and Columbia are better football teams than they were a year ago